Calling All Social Media Leaders in Student Affairs

2Even before starting my doctoral program at Cal Lutheran, I found myself gravitating toward research and practice around social media within higher education.  I felt strongly that my previous institution needed further development on this topic, so I proposed we hire a consultant, Eric Stoller to take our Division of Student Affairs to the next level.  Since his two-day campus visit last spring, that division has taken to heart the necessity to understand, apply and keep up with social media practices.  Upon starting my coursework last summer, I began to explore many realms of technology.

Currently, I am exploring what role (and impact) leaders within higher education have on social media.  For example, leaders within Student Affairs (known as SSAOs or Senior Student Affairs Officers) serve in countless roles across campus, such as administrator, counselor, faculty, supervisor, advisor, and advocate.  SSAOs include such positions as a Dean of Students or Vice President or Provost of Student Affairs and typically report to the university or college president or provost.  Little research has been conducted on the use of social media by these senior level campus leaders, with the intent to engage directly with students and make strategies to build a virtual campus community.

This research is important because the calling of a leader within higher education is to meet the students where they are.  Research has demonstrated that college students use social media not only daily, but multiple times a day (Calvert, Pempek, & Yermolayeva, 2009; Ellison, Lampe, & Steinfield 2008; Junco, 2011; Heighberger, Junco & Loken 2011).  Junco (2011) found that between 85-99% of college students use a social networking site called Facebook.  Calvert et al (2009) found that students were not only high users of Facebook, but were using it at least 30 minutes daily.

Looking further into what it means to be a leader on a college campus, Drew (2010) discussed issues and challenges in higher education leadership.  He found that a transformational leadership style met key challenges, especially as it pertains to courage to make a change.  With similar constructs, another type of leadership capacity is called IRL or being a leader ‘in real life’ (Stoller, 2011) and applies more directly with SSAOs exploring social media use.  Stoller believes IRL “ requires courage, authenticity, wisdom, and the ability to listen” (2011, p 18).A number of studies have explored what effect this was having on students.  Junco (2011) looked at student engagement, finding Facebook was positively related to co-curricular activities.  Social networking sites were also found to impact student motivation, ability to learn, classroom climate, and building relationships (Cheung, Chiu, and Lee, 2011).  If this type of positive impact exists for college students, it seems apparent that SSAOs should be exploring these platforms further, discussing how in their roles they can utilize it to engage directly with students, and how to build a virtual campus community.

Technology changes daily, so the need for innovation, adapting to change, and building relationships are even more imperative.  The method to manage information technology also calls for a different type of leadership.  Sellers (2005) found, “Administrative decision makers have become information managers.  Information technology is right at the center of educational administration” (p. 365).

There are various Student Affairs pioneers using social media through platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogging sites, and more.  These professionals are setting the bar for a new type of leadership that Student Affairs Leaders must rise to.  What it means to be a leader on a college campus is changing because of social media.  Best practices must be found to guide current and future leaders. “Higher Education administrators, faculty, and staff have an opportunity to help students use Facebook in ways that are beneficial to their engagement and, by extension, to their overall academic experience” (Junco, 2011, p. 197).

Based upon this research project, my next step is reach out to these innovative leaders.  I hope to find themes through my interviews with them for teachable tools that I can share with my higher education colleagues.  Stay tuned for my results and to see if this will be what turns into my dissertation!

Are you one of these leaders, leading your campus with a ‘IRL’ social media presence?  Whether Dean of Student or campus activities coordinator, I’d love to hear from you!

Calvert, S. L., Pempek, T. A., & Yermolayeva, Y. A. (2009). College students’ social networking experiences on Facebook. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30, 227-238.  doi: 10.1016/j.appdev.2008.12.010

Cheung, C. M. K., Chiu, P., & Lee, M. K. O. (2011). Online social networks: why do students use Facebook? Computers in Human Behavior, 27, 1337-1343. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2010.07.028

Drew, G. (2010). Issues and challenges in higher education leadership: engaging for change. The Australian Educational Researcher, 37(3) 57-76.  

Ellison, N. B., Lampe, C., & Steinfield, C. (2008). Social capital, self-esteem, and use of online social network sites: a longitudinal analysis. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 29, 434-445.

Heiberger, G., Junco, R. & Loken, E. (2011). The effect of Twitter on college student engagement and grades.  Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 27, 119-132. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2010.00387x

Junco, R. (2011). The relationship between frequency of Facebook use, participation in Facebook activities and student engagement. Computers & Education, 58, 162-171.

Sellers, M. (2005).  Moogle, Google, and garbage cans: the impact of technology on decision making. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 8(4), 365-374.

Stoller, E. (2011). Social Media and the SSAO.  NASPA Leadership Exchange, Spring 16-20.


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